Filling in the Blank Generation

Drugs, debauchery and the Sex Pistols. Things were so much simpler then.

Illustration By robert armstrong

What a drag it is getting old. One moment you’re at the top of your game, the next you’re kvetching about “kids these days.” Who the hell do they think they are? Haven’t they heard of paying their dues? From whence comes their grandiose sense of entitlement?

“Ah, you’ve had a Generation Y experience!” a friend recently soothed.

“More like Generation WTF,” I replied.

What the fuck, indeed. You put a kid with a fork in a room and tell him not to stick it in the electrical outlet, and the second you turn your back, he sticks it in you. Vicious, these little darlings born between 1980 and 2000, who are sometimes referred to as “Millennials” or “Generation Whine.”

Blame it on overprotective parents as much as you want, such behavior still baffles and confuses me. Where I come from, the kid sticks the fork in the electrical outlet, every time. For the sake of convenience, let’s call that place the Blank Generation, as formulated by Richard Hell and the Voidoids, circa 1976:

To hold the T.V. to my lips, the air so packed with cash
then carry it up flights of stairs and drop it in the vacant lot
To lose my train of thought and fall into your arms’ tracks
and watch beneath the eyelids every passing dot
I belong to the blank generation and
I can take it or leave it each time

By then, the fall had begun. The slim sliver of hope that Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society might be realized upon America’s withdrawal from Vietnam soon gave way to Watergate and the Arab oil embargo. Stagflation drove prices through the roof and workers out of their jobs. American heavy industries began moving overseas. You couldn’t escape the feeling that nothing was coming.

But you had to try. The hedonistic excesses of the 1960s granted license to harder and more extreme pleasures and pursuits in the 1970s. No one told us to just say no (not that we would have listened), warning stickers had yet to appear on record jackets (not that we would have read them) and you could still have sex without a condom (as often and with as many people as possible). There were no pretenses about changing the world. We wanted to make the world go away, to blank it right the fuck out.

And for a short while, we did. I first became aware that such a feat might even be possible after seeing the Sex Pistols perform “Anarchy in the UK” on ABC’s 20/20 in 1976. From Johnny Rotten’s first lines, delivered over Steve Jones’ heavily distorted guitar, I was transfixed:

I am an Antichrist
I am an anarchist
Don’t know what I want but
I know how to get it
I wanna destroy the passerby

There are those who have always insisted that Rotten’s professed anarchism was merely a pose, and I might even agree with that today. But back then, it seemed like the entire civilized world might collapse before the filth and the fury of the Sex Pistols. Salvation had arrived, in the form of destruction. I was hopelessly hooked on punk rock.

It was nihilism, plain and simple. When nothing is true, everything is permitted, even wearing a black hood while singing about the joys of intravenous drug abuse and anal sex as half-naked nubiles writhe at your feet. How many risk factors can be included in a single song? The potential for debauchery seemed limitless.

There were limits of course. Maybe somebody didn’t like the clothes you were wearing, so they stabbed you. Or perhaps you ignored the warnings about safe sex and/or sharing needles and contracted HIV. If you somehow did manage to come out the other side, you undoubtedly passed through the Blank Generation’s primary contribution to modern culture, the drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.

A certain number of clean-and-sober years later, the country is in even worse-off shape, and here you are, complaining about the next bus load of losers coming down the pike. If they put you back in that room with the fork, you’d plug it right back in the socket, just like you did before. Not these kids. They have a better idea about where to stick it. Why worry about paying your dues when you can skip the whole process and still claim what’s coming to you?

Who knows? Maybe these Generation Y kids are on to something. You do get what you deserve. They just don’t have the slightest clue that nothing’s coming. Pray for the person who tells them.